Essay on American Women in the Nineteenth Century

Essay on American Women in the Nineteenth Century

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Contrary to popular belief, ideas on femininity in the eighteenth century were not so much restrictive as in the nineteenth, at least not where sex was concerned. Catherine Clinton, a professor of American history, elaborates in her book, The Other Civil War: American Women in the Nineteenth Century, that it was even accepted for women to have a high sex drive. Clinton also reveals that it was not uncommon to see a pregnant bride (147). At the turn of the century, however, those free ideals morphed into strict guidelines. Society began to value a woman by her sexual purity and dependent behavior. During the nineteenth century, the type of woman who was most valued was a ‘trophy’ wife, much like Marian Forrester in A Lost Lady by Willa Cather. By the end of the story, Niel Herbert, the protagonist in the book, notices flaws in Marian that ultimately makes him lose respect for her. Overall, Niel’s admiration for Captain Forrester and his disillusionment with Mrs. Forrester is an excellent portrayal of the double-standards present in the nineteenth century.
For the women in the nineteenth century, the most difficult standard to be held to is perfection. No one is perfect, yet in many cultures, a mistake on a woman’s behalf can get her banished from her home or killed, even if she was an exemplary woman despite the mistake. Conversely, when a man makes a mistake, it is often overlooked if not praised and he still retains his integrity. This double-standard is eloquently portrayed in A Lost Lady by Niel’s ability to promptly forget Marian’s benevolence and condemn her. From the beginning, Mrs. Forrester has an innate kindness which she demonstrates when she takes care Niel after he falls out from the tree (Cather 26-29). She proves he...


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...f gender, is far from over, but steps are being taken in the right direction. The key to change is awareness.



Works Cited

Cather, Willa. A Lost Lady. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1923. Print.
Clinton, Catherine. The Other Civil War: American Women in the Nineteenth Century. New York: Hill and Wang, 1984. Print.
Laurenceau, Jean-Philippe, Lisa Feldman Barrett, and Michael J. Rovine. "The Interpersonal Process Model Of Intimacy In Marriage: A Daily-Diary And Multilevel Modeling Approach." Journal Of Family Psychology 19.2 (2005): 314-323. PsycARTICLES. Web. 3 Mar. 2014.
Taylor, Richard. Love Affairs: Marriage & Infidelity. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 1997. Print.
Women In Affairs [Electronic Resource (Video)] / Content Media Corporation. n.p.: New York, N.Y. : Films Media Group, [2013], c2011., 2011. Maricopa Comm College District Catalog. Web. 3 Mar. 2014.

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